Football: That was the weekend that was

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Robson defends letting `the Juventus boy' go

MIDDLESBROUGH MANAGER Bryan Robson may have been spared another weekend of distressing headlines about his private life but the former England captain still finds himself under fire - this time over his ability, or otherwise, to spot a budding star.

This follows the astonishing story that a youngster he considered not good enough for the Riverside has signed a five-year-deal with the Italian champions, Juventus.

Former Irish youth international Ronnie O'Brien is joining the Italians in July after creating a good impression during the European Youth Championships - won by the Republic - in Cyprus last year.

Robson did not rate him and had already paid him off, prompting the youngster to take a lead from former Middlesbrough striker Fabrizio Ravanelli in taking a parting shot at the manager as he left.

"Bryan Robson doesn't like young players. He said that to us. He prefers experience," O'Brien said.

The jibe prompted an instant reply from Robson, who vigorously defended his record with young players.

"Ask Robbie Stockdale whether I like younger players," Robson said, referring to one teenager holding down a place in the side. "If kids are good enough I like them, if not I have no time for them.

"People hit the ceiling because Ronnie has gone to Juventus, but he hasn't done anything yet. Good luck to him. I hope he does really well and proves me wrong. But nobody we have released has made it in the top flight, and I don't think Ronnie will."

To Hull and back for Joyce's star striker

IF INJURIES, illness and suspensions do not give a football manager headaches enough, then spare a thought for Hull City's Warren Joyce.

The Tigers manager, whose side occupy 91st place in the League, had to exclude his newly-signed star striker from the line-up to face Mansfield on Saturday - because the club could not afford the transfer fee.

Hull, desperately trying to sustain their revival under Joyce, signed Colin Alcide from Lincoln a month ago, reportedly for a pounds 50,000 fee. The striker scored on his debut at Brentford 24 hours later.

Reports suggest, however, that only pounds 10,000 changed hands at the time and when the balance - plus VAT - fell due last week, Hull simply could not find the cash.

Alcide wanted to stay and the club reportedly offered another pounds 10,000 to postpone settlement for another month but the Lincoln chairman, John Reames, insisted on the full fee or the return of his player.

The situation is an embarrassing one for Hull's new chairman, Tom Belton, who succeeded the unpopular David Lloyd after the tennis millionaire had threatened to close the club. Belton had described the signing of Alcide as a reward to Tigers fans for their loyalty, but was reluctant to discuss the matter at the weekend. "We've not been able to reach an agreement," he said. "That's all I'm prepared to say."

SEEN AND HEARD

Excuse of the season: "Robbie has been feeling under the weather. He has a fear of needles and had to have eight injections for the World Youth Cup in Nigeria. I think it affected him." - Wolves manager Colin Lee explains Robbie Keane's below-par performance at Loftus Road.

I didn't see it but...: "If that had been in a John Wayne movie and the other fellow had gone down like that then John Wayne would have stopped and laughed." - Coventry City's Gordon Strachan on John Aloisi's dismissal for allegedly striking Charlton's Danny Mills.

It's a hard life: "Whoever said it was a beautiful game was lying." - new manager Lawrie Sanchez, after an extra-time penalty snatched victory from Wycombe against Colchester.

Sullivan tipped for a pounds 5m move to Anfield

THE MIRROR and the Sunday People both reckon on Neil Sullivan being the latest target for Liverpool as the Merseyside giants bid to find a top-quality goalkeeper. The Mirror says a pounds 4.5m deal is in the offing, the Sunday People pounds 5m. Meanwhile, the Express says another switch of goalkeepers could see Kevin Pressman move to Leicester when Kasey Keller's Filbert Street contract expires in the summer.

The Mirror and Sunday People differ, however, over who Manchester United might be chasing as a potential replacement for Peter Schmeichel. The Sunday People says they are still checking on Parma's 21-year-old Gianluigi Buffon, rated the best young 'keeper in Europe; The Mirror, however, says Massimo Taibi, of Venezia, could go to Old Trafford for pounds 4m.

There is no keeping Stan Collymore off the back pages. While the News of the World says Aston Villa offered Collymore plus pounds 5m for Nottingham Forest's Steve Stone - a move rejected by the Villa striker - the Sunday People insists that Collymore's Villa team-mates are close to revolt over the special treatment handed to the stressed-out striker. The Sunday People also reckons Forest have set their sights on Cagliari's Cameroon international Patrick M'Boma if they can offload Pierre van Hooijdonk before transfer deadline day.

Chelsea could bring in another Italian to bolster their goalscoring resources for the final assault on the Premiership. The Mirror says Gianluca Vialli is weighing up a pounds 6m raid on Roma for Marco Delvecchio, who cannot hold down a place despite 15 goals this season.

The Express says that a Norwich bid to sign Newcastle's Paul Dalglish on loan for the rest of the season - reported also by The Mirror and Sunday People - has fallen through because Newcastle wanted a cash sale.

KEY NUMBERS

0

The Premiership teams without a sending-off this season after Coventry's John Aloisi spoiled the last unblemished record on Saturday

9

Sunderland's run of consecutive home wins, a post-war club record

5,000

The pounds Preston manager David Moyes has spent in taking his team to second place in the Second Division behind Fulham

I TOLD YOU SO

[Francesco] Baiano is similar to Bergkamp. It's people like that who we need to be playing

Goalkeeper Russell Hoult, whose opinion Jim Smith holds in such regard that he left the Italian on the bench as Arsenal knocked Derby out of the Cup

Missing... making it... and mistaken

David Hirst

Southampton

Probably the least fulfilled footballer in the country, the perpetually injured former Sheffield Wednesday and England striker has not played for Southampton at all this term after injuring a knee in pre-season training. The 31-year-old has tested his fitness at reserve-team level and hopes to make a comeback against Wednesday on 20 March.

Matthew Etherington

peterborough

Having caught the eye with a string of impressive performances for Barry Fry's Third Division side, the 17-year-old forward looks poised to join a Premiership squad before transfer deadline day. Newcastle and West Ham are interested but Fry is said to be close to striking a pounds 1.5m deal with Arsenal.

Robert de Niro

Bruce Springsteen may be the number one idol of Villa's own Boss but those dark, brooding good looks - not to mention the sharp Italian suits - surely owe something to De Niro. Own up, John, you've got Goodfellas on video, haven't you?

Premiership Team Of The Week

NORBERTO SOLANO

Newcastle United

ALBERT FERRER

Chelsea

TEMURI KETSBAIA

Newcastle United

DAVID UNSWORTH

Everton

IGOR STIMAC

Derby County

ED DE GOEY

Chelsea

STEVE HOWEY

Newcastle United

NWANKWO KANU

Arsenal

NICK BARMBY

Everton

GEORGE GEORGIADIS

Newcastle United

MARCEL DESAILLY

Chelsea

Manager of the week: Ruud Gullit, one step away from another F A Cup final. Performance of the week: Chelsea, disciplined battle against numerical handicap.

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